- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The Browns, after stumbling through their early games, were picked up when Bill Nelsen replaced Frank Ryan at quarterback. The replacements for Green—Charley Harraway, a third-year man, and Charlie Leigh, a rookie who did not play college football—lack Green's running and blocking ability, but they have shown enough to provide variety and an opportunity for Leroy Kelly, second best runner in the league after Sayers, to break loose. Eppie Barney, filling in for Collins, has speed, but lacks Collins' flair for opening up on deep passes. As a consequence, Paul Warfield, the other Brown deep receiver, is often double-teamed. The replacement for Glass, Jack Gregory, a second-year player from Chattanooga, has been adequate.
Of all the contending teams in the NFL, the Browns' rival for the division championship, the St. Louis Cardinals, have perhaps been the most fortunate. Jerry Stovall, their veteran strong safety, missed the first six games of the season, and Coach Charley Winner never discovered a really adequate replacement. Thus the Cards were, during that time, vulnerable to passes to the tight end. Now Stovall is back. Johnny Roland, the Cardinals' outstanding young runner, has never completely regained his 1966-67 form following a knee operation, but he seems to be improving. The only other injury of consequence suffered by the Cards happened two weeks ago when Middle Linebacker Jamie Rivers, a strong Rookie of the Year candidate, strained a knee ligament that will kayo him for three games. The Cardinals, fortunately, have a reasonably good replacement for Rivers in Mike Strofolino.
Of all the divisions, the most battle-scarred is the Central. The Minnesota Vikings, with only three major disasters, are the healthiest. The Vikings lost their players early; if a club must experience injuries, it is better to have them early so that the replacements have time to settle in and adjust. The worst Viking casualty was Dave Osborn, top runner in the division last year, who needed a knee operation after the second exhibition game. Clinton Jones, a No. 1 draft choice in 1967, replaced Osborn and has done well, having been given time to fit in to the offense. Starting Flanker Bobby Grim went out with a bad knee on the first day of training camp, but veteran Tom Hall, although not as fast, has a better knack for getting free on medium-range passes.
Finally the Vikings lost Gary Cuozzo, who was battling Joe Kapp for the quarterback spot. He jammed his shoulder before the start of the season, then broke a collarbone in the Vikings' fourth game. Kapp has played capably, and now that Cuozzo has been taken off the injury list he gives Minnesota excellent backup strength.
Green Bay, one of the deepest teams in football, has been stripped of almost all its defensive linemen. Not even the Packers could adjust to the series of injuries that crippled Tackles Jim Weatherwax, Henry Jordan and Ron Kostelnik and hampered Defensive Ends Lionel Aldridge, Willie Davis and Bob Brown.
Add to that list Bart Starr, who missed two games with a pulled bicep muscle, and All-Pro Guard Jerry Kramer, who injured a knee and missed two games. The Packers are a versatile club; they compensated for the Kramer injury by moving Forrest Gregg over from tackle and putting in Francis Peay, a young lineman they obtained from New York, to replace Gregg. Peay has done an exceptional job for Green Bay, but he cannot help the defensive line, where the damage has been done.
Detroit, whose offense depends heavily upon the running of Mel Farr and the passing of Bill Munson, had no quality replacements available when both missed games with injuries. Greg Landry, a rookie quarterback from Massachusetts, stood in for Munson in the opener against Dallas and threw four interceptions, not unusual for a rookie. No other Lion running back was remotely in Farr's class. Now, with Munson and Farr healthy, they have had to find a replacement for Defensive End Joe Robb, who was injured two weeks ago.
The poor Bears had already lost two quarterbacks—starter Jack Concannon (broken collarbone) and Rudy Bukich (shoulder separation)—before the Sayers calamity. The team was forced to call upon a graduate of the taxi squad, Virgil Carter. An uncertain passer in his first few games, he depended heavily on the magical running of Sayers. That was good enough to lead the team to four straight victories and a tie for the division lead. With Sayers out for the season, his duties fall to Brian Piccolo, not even a pseudo-Sayers. To compound the problem, Carter himself was carried off on a stretcher last week, out for the season with a broken ankle.
AFL contenders have suffered almost as much as the strong teams in the NFL. Kansas City, bereft of wide receivers, went back to the old tight T for one game to beat Oakland. The Raiders lost Daryle Lamonica for a game and had to rely on 41-year-old George Blanda. San Diego, the third contender in the West, has had five players operated on for knee injuries: Fullback Brad Hubbert, Linebacker Rick Redman, Safety Jim Hill, Back Keith Lincoln and Defensive Tackle George Gross. The Buffalo Bills, of course, have gone through four quarterbacks. The New York Jets have been lucky, but their best runner, Emerson Boozer, took most of the first half of the season to get his legs under him after a knee operation and still is not right.
With four weeks of the season remaining, there will surely be other injuries that will have an effect on the division races. Of the contending teams in the four NFL divisions, the Dallas Cowboys are probably best prepared for such an event. Don Meredith, who has a battered knee, is backed by husky Craig Morton, an excellent No. 2. But the New York Giants, trailing Dallas by a game, would be in deep trouble if their quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, were hurt. In fact, one reason the Giants are technically in contention is that they have been comparatively free from injuries.